- 9921 Ormsby Station Road, Louisville, KY
- (502) 365-4823
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
Call me crazy, but upon first seeing the guacamole sampler at Guaca Mole Cocina Mexicana, my first thought was, “What would van Gogh do with this?” For just a moment, I envisioned him picking up a scoop with his famous palette knife and painting a swirling landscape of avocado hills studded with purple highlights made from pickled purple onions, crimson chunks of tomato and bright kernels of corn.
Then reality intruded and I realized that van Gogh would do the same thing I was doing. He’d grab a warm corn chip (or crisp fried plantain) and gobble the stuff down.
Guaca Mole is the newest venture of some of Louisville’s most accomplished restaurateurs. The partnership consists of Fernando and Cristina Martinez (formerly of Havana Rumba Cuban Restaurant and Mojito Tapas Restaurant, where they were founding partners) and Yaniel Martinez (also formerly of Havana Rumba).
Where those earlier restaurants — which indisputably rank among Louisville’s most popular eateries — emphasize Cuban and Spanish cuisine, Guaca Mole is all about the food and spirit of Mexico. And at Guaca Mole, the food, spirit (and spirits) of Mexico are celebrated with the sort of ingenuity, creativity and chef-driven gusto that will have people stacked at the door.
That guacamole sampler consists of three beautifully presented guacamoles (each can be had solo for $7/$8; the sampler, $13). There’s a standard version made with avocado, onions, cilantro, jalapeno and lime juice — and by “standard version,” I mean to suggest that this bowl of dense, beautifully colored, obviously handmade stuff could serve as a standard of excellence for all guacamoles.
Another version is sprinkled with queso fresco, picks up added texture from pumpkin seeds, and is finished with a garnish of paper-thin radishes and a few fresh, crisp pork rinds. And my favorite builds a complex web of flavor from roasted poblanos, grilled corn and those pickled red onions that seem simple enough, but add a tart edge as startling as it is delightful.
There are other ways to start a meal as well: a colorful bowl of pozole — chicken and hominy in a guajillo pepper broth ($5), or taquitos made with smoked fish, shallots, capers and lemon oil ($5). Or even elotes callejeros, an elaborate, spicy approach to grilled corn on the cob ($5).
And like much of the menu, the crunchy Mexican salad ($7) is so pretty that a sensitive diner (unlike me) will have trouble deciding whether to eat it or frame it; it looks like part of a trousseau for a spring wedding, an intricately laced structure of herbs and greens with a vivacious, citrusy dressing.
While tucking into the starters and salads, you might as well sample some of the cocktails, which feature nice touches like the house-infused chili-laden tequila that mixes with mango, pineapple juice and a chewable (if you dare) arbol chili garnish in the Mango Picante cocktail ($7.50) or the cumin-salt rim of the Cucumberita ($7.25; ask for it sans Sierra Mist, if you prefer a drier cocktail).
Even in these early days, service at Guaca Mole reflects excellent training and very fine familiarity with the foods and beverages (especially when it comes to pairing wines with the bold flavors of the cuisine).
The space — which formerly housed a Shoney’s and an Applebee’s — has been splendidly reimagined in greens and mauves (with plenty of whimsical Dia de los Muertos imagery as highlights). Seating is a flexible mix of bistro and regular-height tables and booths (and there’s a pleasant, spacious bar in the center of everything).
And count yourself lucky if you visit on one of the nights when guitarist-baritone Mario Cardenas is crooning husky Spanish-language ballads (lately he’s been performing on Mondays and Tuesdays, but I was told his schedule may soon change).
I could happily dine at Guaca Mole without ever moving beyond the salads and small plates, especially since there are also a few ceviches (including a fine example in which salmon is treated with an intriguing crimson marinade made from roasted beet salsa, blood orange juice, a dash of horseradish and some tarragon ($7).
But then I’d be missing out on things like the superb tacos made from tempura-fried cod with a fiery spicy crab meat aioli ($13), the chicken tinga tacos (with crisp hominy and more of those pickled onions, $11), and a nice assortment of sandwiches.
I’d also be missing out on the moles — the traditional Mexican sauces that are the very reason the restaurant’s name is split into halves. For instance, there’s an exquisite dish of roasted chicken in a dark crimson poblano mole with sesame and crumbled queso fresco that comes with rice and a flavorful puree of black beans ($13).
And I’d be missing out on desserts, like the extraordinary chocolate tres leches cake. And that, my friends, is simply unthinkable.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.